TWiA explores the intersection of policy and politics, and most importantly, how that intersection affects real people. It's dedicated to the proposition that good government is possible, it matters, and taxpayers deserve nothing less. Its starting point is that facts are facts, science is real, data are real, and we can and must learn from history. Below you'll find facts and opinions that derive from fact, informed by a close and careful study of these issues that began in 1968 and has never stopped. Note, when we discuss generic "Democrats" and "Republicans" or "conservatives" and "liberals," etc., we're talking about elected officials, unless otherwise noted. Also, bonus bear news and other awesomeness. We appreciate comments and arguments, so please chime in, and if you like it, spread the word.
This Week in Demographics
More Americans self-identify as conservative than as liberal. That's been true for a long time. For a while, it even seemed like those self-applied labels were true. Since the end of WWII, Republicans have held the White House for 36 years, Democrats for 26 (it will be 28 when President Obama's second term ends). Ronald Reagan's was, for better or worse (we would argue much worse), the most transformative presidency during that span, although the impacts of the George W. Bush presidency might outlive Reagan's.
But even though more Americans self-identify as conservative, when it comes to their views on individual issues, most Americans are actually liberal. According to this article describing the findings in a new book, Ideology in America, "But when it comes to saying what the government should actually do, the public appears more liberal than conservative. Ellis and Stimson gathered 7,000 survey questions dating back to 1956 that asked some variant of whether the government should do more, less, or the same in lots of different policy areas. On average, liberal responses were more common than conservative responses. This has been true in nearly every year since 1956, even as the relative liberalism of the public has trended up and down. For decades now there has been a consistent discrepancy between what Ellis and Stimson call symbolic ideology (how we label ourselves) and operational ideology (what we really think about the size of government)."
A recent Gallup poll found that the number of self-identified liberals had reached a new high (since they began measuring this way in 1992) of 23%, while self-identified conservatives had dropped to 38%. In many cases, people vote along the lines of their self-identification rather than their opinions on policy issues. Large swaths of Americans vote without really knowing where specific candidates actually stand.
But the gap is narrowing, and demographics are closing it more--and will, over the years to come, reverse it. Not only is the white majority in America on its way out the door, to be replaced by no majority race--and those currently classified as minorities are voting increasingly Democratic--but the "millenial" generation is overwhelmingly liberal (for example, 61% of Republicans under 30 support same-sex marriage). Reagan and George H.W. Bush both won more of the youth vote than their opponents, but between 2000 and 2004, young people became increasinly liberal and voted increasingly for Democrats in presidential elections.
As the older, whiter population dies off, Republicans will have more and more difficulty winning national elections--barring a major change in their direction as a party, of course. If they suddenly embraced liberal viewpoints on the major social issues of the day, and advocated for a bigger, more active government, they could win those millenials. But they would hardly be Republicans anymore.
At the moment, Republicans aren't sure where they stand on anything, as the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) showed. CPAC's straw poll for the presidency went to Senator Rand Paul (R/KY) for the second time, despite the fact that Paul, while perhaps politically astute, is absurdly clueless not only about domestic policy but foreign policy as well. In fact, although the party has a huge number of potential contenders for the 2016 nomination, none of those with "frontrunner" status have any foreign policy cred.
The Republican Party is fractured, split between tea party ultraconservatives who value ideology over competence or intelligence, establishment types who still cater to the tea party right in some instances but understand that the job of elected officials is to govern, single-issue fanatics, and the generally insane [Donald Trump, for instance, was a speaker at CPAC, where he lamented the death of President Jimmy Carter--who is not dead--while the Republican who's third in line to the presidency, House Speaker John Boehner (R/OH) was persona non grata].
To be clear, this is not about the Republican Party needing to tweak its message, as many in the party's leadership seem to think [nor is it, as Senator Ted Cruz (R/TX) insists, a problem of the party being insufficiently conservative]. It's about a party that has embraced ideologically extreme views, denied reality, and left the vast American center behind.
Without clear leadership or direction, with many more Americans opposed to them than with them on the issues, with the number of self-identified conservatives dropping while that of liberals climbs, with the aging white population and the growing millenial rainbow one, with more Americans than ever living in and around large cities (which tend to be more liberal) and getting college educations (the 12 most college-educated states are blue states), Republicans are looking at a long, dry future as a party in the wilderness, at the national level. They have a good shot at taking the entire Congress in 2014 (though if they do, they'll lose it in 2016), and maintaining their edge in governships and statehouses. But they're only going to be seeing the inside of the White House if they take the tour.
Side Note 1: In case anyone questions our assertion that Sen. Paul is a complete foreign policy lightweight, consider his foolish, destructive proposal regarding the Russia/Ukraine situation. Time, generally a respectable publication, should be embarrassed for publishing such dreck. In the space of a single op-ed, Paul argues that we should economically penalize the already struggling Ukraine, reinstitute a "missile defense" system that doesn't work while forcing allies who don't want it to pay for it, build a potentially disastrous pipeline across the United States that would have no impact on world oil supplies for years (if ever--if we don't build the pipeline, Canada will simply ship the oil across Canada instead, taking the risk of pipeline failure on themselves, and either way, the oil's not ours--it'll go to the highest bidder, not necessarily to us or our allies), and ignore the environmental and climatological impact of increasing the amount of fossil fuels captured and used worldwide. Oh, and America's broke.
No, Senator, America's not broke. Various policy decisions made since 1980 have put more of America's wealth into ever fewer hands, but to claim that the country is broke is to completely misunderstand everything about economics. Then again, so is to argue in favor of the gold standard, which Paul also does here.
Paul's piece ends with this pithy line: "But let me be clear: If I were President, I wouldn’t let Vladimir Putin get away with it." If Paul were president, we'd already be in serious trouble, because Paul is an ideologue without even the most basic grasp of the issues a president has to face--or a senator, for that matter.
Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine has more space than we do to tear apart Paul's nonsense point-by-point--we highly recommend his analysis.
Side Note 1 Side Note: Supposedly "serious" Sen. Marco Rubio (R/FL) is no better.
Side Note 2: As just one example of denying reality, note that Representative and former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R/SC) (yes, he of "hiking the Appalachian Trail" fame) claims that the government didn't shut down during October 2013. If Rep. Sanford would like to forward the paychecks that we here at TWiA World Headquarters never received during that period, it would be appreciated.
This Week in Nutty (and Worse)
As mentioned above, Senator Marco Rubio was briefly seen as a serious person, and perhaps a presidential or vice presidential candidate in 2012 or 2016. Then he supported comprehensive immigration reform--a reasonable position that caused his party's right wing to turn on him. Since then he's been struggling for a new issue, and foreign policy seems to be where he wants to make his mark. His trouble is that his foreign policy ideas make no sense, including this one: "Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) plans to introduce legislation to prevent a “takeover” of the Internet by the United Nations or another government regime."
Nobody denies that some countries censor the internet for their citizens. But if Rubio thinks there's a credible threat of the UN seizing control of the internet, he should show us where it is. If he can't, he should take off the tinfoil hat, because it makes him look foolish and anything but serious.
On the domestic front--and veering from nutty into truly disgusting--we have right-wing glamor boy Dr. Ben Carson, who can't seem to keep himself from saying incredibly stupid things. Now he's trying to deflect criticism of those stupid things by claiming that said criticism is making America "very much like Nazi Germany."
If I may get personal for a moment, as I do whenever ill-conceived Nazi references come up in political conversation--my father served in Europe during WWII. As one of the first American GIs to enter one of the concentration camps, he saw first-hand what the Nazis were doing. It was nothing like "stifling" Ben Carson's speech. The fact that Carson thinks it was shows that he's deeply ignorant of history and of the country he lives in, and it should disqualify him from being taken seriously by any thinking American. The fact that he finished third in the CPAC straw poll and is considered a potential 2016 presidential contender speaks volumes about the conservative movement in this country today--none of it good.
This Week in the Economy
The president's annual report on the economy is out (read the whole 410-page document here if you're having trouble sleeping). Here's the takeaway: "The unemployment rate has dropped to the lowest levels in more than five years, deficits have been cut by more than half, housing is on the rebound, manufacturers are adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s and exports are accelerating." American productivity is up, as well. We still have challenges ahead of us, including unemployment and wage stagnation, but the news is overall positive. For more detailed analysis, check Bloomberg News.
Side Note: Many economists argue (as do we, though we're only amateur economists) that income inequality stifles economic growth, while redistribution (through progressive tax policy and other means) creates economic growth. Two new studies from the International Monetary Fund back up that assertion.
This Week in Torture
The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing a massive report about the CIA's activities around secret prisons and torture. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the committee, says the CIA is trying to undermine their investigation--by spying on the senators, among other things.
The Obama administration is complicit in these things. Instead of launching its own investigation into Bush-era torture, the administration declared that it was time to "look forward," not back. People at the CIA who were instrumental in torture have not only not been held accountable, they've risen to positions of greater power and importance in the agency. And the administration is sitting on more than 9,000 classified documents the committee wants to see, but which the White House won't release,
When he took offiice, President Obama declared that the United States does not torture. By refusing to hold those who did accountable, and refusing to fully cooperate with our only national effort to do so, he's failing to live up to that declaration. Whether we're still torturing, on his watch, might just be a matter of interpretation. But one thing is certain: If we don't take action against those who we know tortured, we'll do it again. There has to be accountability, and continued obstruction will be a black mark on this president that will live in history, as launching the torture programs in the first place is on his predecessor.
This Week in Health Care
For as long as there's been an Affordable Care Act, there have been forces on the right trying to repeal it, and more reasonable voices (including ours) pointing out that since that's not going to happen, ever, they should instead focus on trying to fix it to work better for all Americans. This week, without a lot of fanfare, congressional Republicans have started working to do just that. Facing reality for a change, they've decided that when the 2014 elections roll around, they don't want to be tagged as purely obstructionist. To be sure, these are small, technical tweaks, nothing substantial. But for so long, the Republican line has been that the law is completely broken and unfixable. By agreeing to make fixes, they're undercutting their own stance--but, perhaps, taking a baby step toward a more workable government.
In other health care news, the number of uninsured Americans continues to decrease, with more people being covered every month. But to the consitutuencies unhappy with the ACA, you can add labor unions--and the administration is making no effort to fix the problems they have with it. What this portends for the future of the Democratic Party, once heavily reliant on unions for fundraising and get-out-the-vote ground operations--or for the future of unions, which are becoming more and more marginalized--is an open question.
Finally, the case of an ACA "victim" who made a big splash in Michigan (and who we've discussed here before) has been researched by the Detroit News, which found that under the insurance plan she ultimately bought, she'll be paying considerably less for her medical care, will have better coverage, and won't have to change doctors. Her response? "I personally do not believe that."
The woman in question is a leukemia patient, and we sympathize with her condition and wish her all the best. But she's also the wife of a former Republican county chairman, and she has appeared in a TV commercial attacking a democratic candidate for his stand on the ACA. She was a Republican guest at this year's State of the Union address and took part in a Republican National Committee event. She has politicized her case, allowed it to be exploited by others, and now she seems insistent on denying that her health insurance situation has definitively improved under the ACA.
This, once again, is the problem with the anti-ACA message. The law is working, more people are getting insured, usually with better insurance and lower premiums if they even were able to get insurance before, and the cost of health care is bending down. Instead of arguing against these truths, groups like Americans for Prosperity bring out a parade of "victims," virtually all of whom have been shown not to be victims at all. If AFP can't argue their case on its merits but instead have to rely on dishonest tactics, maybe it's a case that deserves to lose.
This Week in Cooperation(?)
In addition to the bipartisan ACA tweaks mentioned above, there's an actual story of bipartisan cooperation in the Senate with regard to healthcare. Or at least, there seems to be.
"In a rare instance of Senate Democrats and House Republicans working together, Congress agreed Tuesday to shift funding formerly allocated to presidential conventions to programs focused on pediatric medical research.
"The bill, the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, was approved unanimously by the Senate, without a roll call vote, after being championed by Virginia Democrats Sen. Mark R. Warner and Sen. Timothy M. Kaine as well as by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a veteran advocate for federal research.
"In a statement, Kaine and Warner applauded colleagues for routing more federal dollars to childhood cancer research and for honoring the memory of Miller, a 10-year-old Loudoun County girl who died in October, almost a year after a brain cancer diagnosis."
The bill passed the House [where it was a top priority of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R/VA)] in December, 295 to 103. It was held up in the Senate by Democrats who wanted to push much more funding toward pediatric cancer, but who finally settled for the $126 million over ten years that was in the final bill. $12.6 million a year is not nearly enough, but it's something. Or is it? Over the past decade, the National Institutes of Health, which will receive and allocate this largesse, has lost far, far more funding than $126 million--25% of its spending power. And there's no guarantee when, or if, the NIH will actually see this money--spending levels are already set through 2015, and the money's being moved into a fund until Congress can allocate it to the NIH, which might never happen.
In this case, the cooperation looks promising. But in the end, it's mostly smoke and mirrors, part of an effort by Cantor to make it appear as if Congressional Republicans are getting something done, even when they're not.
Pediatric cancer is an important issue, and it needs real research dollars. What it does not need is to be used as a partisan prop. Sadly, that's what happened here.
This Week in Science
30 Senate Democrats held an all-night talkfest about climate change this week. It was not a filibuster, since, as with the fake filibusters of Sens Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, they weren't talking to block a specific bill, but an attempt to draw attention to a particular issue. In this case, it's an issue that needs attention. It's a fact that's affecting our daily lives, that's costing the country billions of dollars, and that should be addressed before it gets worse. It's something Americans should care about.
Except there's this: "According to the National Science Foundation's recently released Science and Engineering Indicators 2014, 80% of Americans do not understand what it means to study something scientifically."
America is scientifically illiterate. As a result, when paid spokespeople for the fossil fuel industry say the science "isn't settled" on climate change, people believe them. When conservative groups spend millions and millions of dollars to convince people that the ACA isn't working, people believe them. When the right-wing media machine join right-wing politicians to claim our deficit is rising to dangerous levels or that federal spending hurts the economy, people believe them. When most of us don't understand how to look at actual facts and to make informed decisions based on those facts--whether in the realm of climate science, medical science, economic science, or anything else--the people with the most money and the loudest voices make the biggest impression. And we all suffer because those well-financed, megaphoned special interests influence who wins elected office and how they vote.
The fact that 30 Democrats thought they could persuade Americans of a scientific fact is encouraging, if a little naive. The shame is that we don't have 100 senators and 435 representatives joining with the president to tell us that climate change is real and needs to be addressed. Maybe if we did, Americans would pay attention.
This Week in Governing
"There are thousands of Hamptons around the country -- little cities in which the tax base has shrunk to nearly nothing, and full of people who simply have given up on politics -- and therefore self-government -- because they have decided that there is no point to it any more. And, sadly, there is an entire portion of our political class that makes a living telling those people in those places that they're right to have given up, that democracy is for suckers, and that Government is something alien to them. There no longer is a consensus that the primary job of being a citizen is to participate in governing, and that consensus was deliberately shattered over the last 30 years, mainly in the interest of shoving the nation's wealth upwards, and increasing private profits at the expense of the public good. In that climate, in which the voters have declined to participate in a government they consider alien to themselves, it's easy to see how an amoral and criminal class of politician can rise. If government is an Other, a thing to be pillaged, there will be people who involve themselves in government for the purposes of pillaging it. The only difference between the three full-time employees of the city of Hampton and the politician-lobbyist revolving door on K Street is a better class of shoes."
Anybody who claims to honor the so-called Founding Fathers should remember that they wanted us to be involved in the process--hence the compound word "self-governing"--not to turn away from it and let the grifters have their way.
This Week in Arizona
How fast are the politics around same-sex marriage and other LGBT rights issues changing? In January, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's office helped write the LGBT discrimination bill that Brewer so publicly vetoed in February. In related news, the governor has announced that she won't try to run again. As we noted a couple of weeks ago, Governor Brewer seems to have grown while in her office, something that often happens to governors once they realize their job is to govern. We're not fans...but we're a little worried that what might come next could be far worse.
This Week in Gun Safety
An Alabama couple in bed together with their gun managed to shoot themselves. Don't take your gun to bed.
Or store it in a sock, especially one that winds up in a thrift store.
Here's a long, revealing interview with Peter Lanza, father of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook school shooter.
Don't we call Jesus the Prince of Peace? What part of that don't Kentucky Baptists get?
And in truly disgusting gun news, George Zimmerman--whose sole claim to fame in this world is that he shot and killed an unarmed teenager after disobeying police orders and forcing a confrontation--is now appearing at gun shows to sign autographs.
This Week in How You Can Help
The Warrior-Scholar Project seeks to help veterans returning from our nation's battlefields succeed, and even lead, in college. For decades, we as a country have felt it important to pay for college for returning vets, but having tuition paid and having the skills to really make the best use of that are two different things. The Warrior-Scholar Project offers vets a two-week "academic boot camp" that prepares vets and teaches them the skills to take full advantage of higher education. Find out more at the link, and donate or volunteer if you can. (Thanks to TWiA special higher ed correspondent Maryelizabeth Hart for the tip.)
This Week in Bears
Dachshund vs. Bear. Who do you think won? You might be surprised.